44. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Great news! I didn’t get eaten by a bear in Shenandoah, in case that wasn’t already abundantly clear. The even better news is that I feel totally semi-competent at camping and will definitely be doing it again, somewhat less fearfully.

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Overview:
Shenandoah National Park is 200,000 acres of protected land, featuring the southern Appalachian Mountains. It’s got an endless number of trails to hike, beautiful mountain views, and four campgrounds to choose from if you’re staying overnight–plus backcountry camping, which is NOT for me but may be for you.

How I got there:
Four of us drove from DC Saturday morning; it’s only just more than a 1.5 hour ride, so we made it in plenty of time to do the bulk of our exploring that day before camping overnight.

Where I stayed:
Loft Mountain campground. As I mentioned, there are four in the park to choose from, and I narrowed it down by weeding out the two that were close to waterfalls and picking the one that *didn’t* mention being near wildlife. You know, so I could live to enjoy the waterfalls. 😉

Note: You’ll need to reserve a space. Not a bad idea to do that as early as possible.

The site had everything we needed–picnic table, fire pit, and a place directly adjacent to park our car. Bathrooms were nearby, too, and they were perfectly nice. Definitely got more than I was expecting.

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What I did:
After setting up the tent we rented from REI–a task during which my prior camping “experience” actually paid off–we set off on a waterfall hike. We began following the Doyles River Falls trail–a downhill path, which hurt plenty on the way back up–and ended up on part of the Jones Run Falls trail, too.

The waterfalls were no Niagara–late summer isn’t really the time to see them in full force–but they were lovely, and the hike was, too.

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The next day we summited Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in the park at 4,051 feet, but we didn’t start from ground level. The trail begins at the Upper Hawksbill Trail parking lot, so it’s only about a 2.1 mile hike on which you gain about 525 feet. Which was good, because I could barely bend my legs at that point after all we did the day before.

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View from the top
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My crew

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Where I ate:
At our picnic table, duh. We made vegetarian fajitas using the campfire (because my friends let me do the shopping), followed by s’mores. We didn’t buy any firewood, though, and what we found was kinda meager…so our fire didn’t last too long despite everyone’s best efforts. Luckily, warming a pot of beans doesn’t take much time. There’s a reason it’s my specialty.

What I missed:
Seeing a bear! Or any other sort of threatening wildlife. Some people we passed claimed they’d been held up for 40 minutes by a rattlesnake in their path, but we found that claim a little suspect. I’ll admit it–camping is not (that) scary.

I also still have never climbed Old Rag after multiple years living in DC, and I feel like that’s a pretty standard bucket list item. But there’s always next year.

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